Colorado Avalanche: Dissecting a Winning Formula (Pt. 3)


The new NHL season has nearly arrived for the Colorado Avalanche. Will it herald a return to Champion form?

Welcome back, Colorado Avalanche fans. The regular season of hockey is nearly here and after a busy summer of off-season tinkering and transactions — it’s time to see where the Avalanche are preparing to stand in the NHL crowd. It’s also time to pontificate over what sort of team head coach Patrick Roy and GM Joe Sakic are assembling, and potentially; who they’re building similar to.


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During our last post, we took a look at the idea that the Colorado Avalanche could be trying to work out a “formula” for returning to success in 2015-2016. The pieces of that formula went like this:

Let’s jump back in where we left off – this time with the defense.

Dec 29, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues center David Backes (42) stands on the puck as Colorado Avalanche defenseman Brad Stuart (17) and Erik Johnson (6) defend during the second period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Must-Have Variable #4: A stingy defense

There’s just no way to get around it — if you’re going to go very far as a team in the NHL, this season or any other; you need to reduce the amount of chances that you give your opponents to score. Sounds easy, but it’s far from that.

Blocking shots, winning puck battles, taking away opportunities – it’s a tall order to fill and it takes an entire team to see it through. There’s no goaltender in the world that can do all of that by themselves. You need to plan a system, and then work the plan. Over and over, for the entire season, against whoever else is in the building that night. If you can do that;  you invite Success to wear your colors every night.

Going back to the recent champion Los Angeles Kings for a moment, it’s clear that giving opposing teams’ scorers a hard time is essential for preventing them from skating all over you. The Kings, who have made smart neutral zone play, strong puck-possession and making relatively few turnovers a hallmark of their team, have been staples of the post-season bunch since the Daryl Sutter regime has begun (last year excluded obviously). It should come as no surprise that Drew Doughty, one of the league’s top defensemen, averaged over 25 minutes of ice time a night.

Keeping opposing players chasing the puck is always preferable to watching it go into the back of your net.

The aforementioned additions to the blue line of the Avalanche in Francois Beauchemin, Brandon Gormley and Nikita Zadorov offer some insight in how Roy and Sakic seem to be interpreting this part of the “winning formula”.

Zadorov and Gormley are young up-and-comers with a high ceiling (20 and 23 respectively). Historically, over his career up to this point, Zadorov seems to be plugged in more often in defensive scenarios as he factored a 52.5% dZs (defense Zone start) during his ‘14-15 season. That’s a strong vote of confidence in his ability to clamp down defensively and make smart plays. Not bad for a (then) 19-year old.

Gormley saw more offensive zone starts (56.9%) in a more sheltered role in Arizona last season, but improved the play of those around him (0.8 Corsi Relative %, 1.7% Fenwick Rel). Having a high number of offensive zone starts doesn’t always mean that the coaching staff don’t trust them (shelter strategy), but could be a indicator of his ability to contribute offensively. Who Patrick Roy decides to pair him up with will be vital to his development and tell Avalanche fans a lot more about what’s going on inside his head. Of course, much will depend on his play and practice with the team.

Francois Beauchemin (35 years old) has the best stats overall (50.0% Corsi For, 51.6% dZs) possession-wise and will be counted on in bringing along a talented, but less experienced blue line this year. This sort of segues me into the next “must-have” for the Avalanche this season. This one’s a biggie.

Statistics Courtesy of

Stats Courtesy of

Must-Have Variable #5: Above average possession statistics

It’s very difficult to talk about the success that the Blackhawks and Kings have had in recent years without talking a bit about their fancy analytics. Personally, I find possession stats to be pretty unbearable to read through, but entirely essential to take heed of if you’re trying to assemble a formula for how a team can win on any given night.

Simply put; you can’t win if you’re chasing the puck for most of the contest. Conversely, if your team is winning going into the third period, you certainly want to “tilt the ice” in your favor so the opposing team has a tough time getting out of their own zone.

For critics of the Avalanche’s glorious 2013-2014 season; this is most common rallying cry among them as the team had been an exception to the rule for a large portion of that season.

The possession stats for the Avalanche were not good last year. In fact, no player on the roster had the puck more-often-than-not last year. If I were in Roy or Sakic’s place as a coach or GM, I think this is where I would have to pull out the red Sharpie and start underlining things in the off-season.

Granted, as I said, they’re a lot smarter than me, but when comparing the Avalanche’s even-strength possession (43.2% Corsi For, ranked second worst) to Chicago’s (53.0%) or L.A.’s (55.3%), it seems pretty simple: the Avalanche need to keep the puck on their stick more this season. If they can do that, more good things will follow.

Just like any equation, it will take the combination of several multipliers working together to result positively for success this season. Adding several players with noted positive Corsi stats sure is a big help going into the new season though. Stay tuned to Mile High Sticking as we continue to dissect Roy and Sakic’s winning formula.

Next time: the Game Plan

Next: Erik Johnson Awarded Contract Extension

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